A New York Times published a report about social networking giant Facebook’s arrangements to share data with dozens of phone makers without its users’ explicit consent.
In a blog post published on Sunday, Facebook responded saying that the partnerships allowed companies like Apple and BlackBerry to build mobile Facebook experiences in the days before app stores streamlined the process.
The New York Times report in question stated that device makers could access users’ friends’ data, even in cases where a user had set restrictions against sharing that information. This news could raise concerns at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is at present investigating Facebook over its handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook entered into a consent agreement with the FTC in 2011 that barred it from sharing data with third parties without informing users.
“These partners signed agreements that prevented people’s Facebook information from being used for any other purpose than to recreate Facebook-like experiences,” wrote Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.
“Contrary to claims by the New York Times, friends’ information, like photos, was only accessible on devices when people decided to share their information with those friends,” Archibong added. “We are not aware of any abuse by these companies.”
“You might think that Facebook or the device manufacturer is trustworthy,” said Serge Egelman, a privacy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the security of mobile apps. “But the problem is that as more and more data is collected on the device — and if apps can access it on the device — it creates serious privacy and security risks.”
“These partnerships work very differently from the way in which app developers use our platform,” said Ime Archibong, a Facebook vice president. Unlike developers that provide games and services to Facebook users, the device partners can use Facebook data only to provide versions of “the Facebook experience,” the officials said.
“It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” said Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant who formerly served as the F.T.C.’s chief technologist.